BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Spain’s referees gathered in Madrid on Thursday to defend their profession in the wake of a scandal involving Barcelona’s payment of millions of dollars over several years to a former referee then acting as their vice president.
Barcelona denies any wrongdoing and says the money was for reports on referees and youth players, but a Spanish state prosecutor is probing the venture after the country’s tax officials got involved.
“We want to make clear that no one has more at stake than we do in assuring that justice is served,” referee José Sánchez read from manifesto in the name of the entire body of soccer match officials.
The manifesto hoped that the “alleged acts by a person that in his time formed part of this house won’t stain our image and the honor of this great body.”
Several hundred active and former referees and referee assistants attended the first news conference given by the Spanish soccer federation since the scandal was broken by a Spain’s Cadena SER radio station on Feb. 15.
The referee body tried to distance itself from the relationship between Barcelona and former referee José María Enríquez Negreira, who was a part of the Spanish soccer federation’s refereeing committee from 1994-2018. Local media reports say Barcelona’s payments to Enríquez reached 7 million euros ($7.5 million) between 2001 and 2018, when they stopped.
While not confirming the exact figures, Barcelona has acknowledged the regular payment to Enríquez during those years. The club has hired an independent firm to carry out its own investigation and is expected to give its more detailed account of the relationship with Enríquez once that is concluded.
There have been no reports from officials or in the media of the payments being linked to favoritism toward Barcelona by referees. Many former referees who were active at the time Enríquez was their vice president have said they never received any pressure from him or other officials. They also said that his role was to inform referees what competition they had been designated each season, but not which games.
Spanish soccer federation secretary general Andreu Camps, second to president Luis Rubiales, said at the event that his organization has complied with requests for information from Spain’s tax office and prosecutors and kept UEFA informed.
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